The Margaret River is perfect walking territory if you read the instructions, writes Marcus Lush.
If you go walking in Australia take lots of water. I am not sure how Burke and Wills coped, but hubris nearly sank me. Actually sank is not the right word — what hubris did was cause me to get to a head-stuck-in-a-vice state of dehydration.
I was tramping in Margaret River. Now, let me take some time to explain exactly what Margaret River is. Because before I went there I had never heard of it, and nor have most people I have spoken to. Strangely they assumed I was talking about The Murray River and had got confused. Firstly, the Margaret River is not a river (although it does have one), it is a town and wine growing region three hours drive south of Perth.
Imagine Australia is a big rectangle twice as long as it is high. Well, the bottom left corner is where Margaret River is.
The ramble I was on was called the Cape to Cape walkway — a 135km coastal walk between two lighthouses, Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin — so, right in the breadbasket of what I like. The walk was created in the 1990s using a fund where some of the money from Western Australia's mining is used to fund worthwhile projects.
The walk took eight days — there were a dozen of us and two guides. We were picked up at the end of each day and driven to our accommodation. One of the guides would walk with us — the other would make meals.
Of the dozen walkers, 10 were Australian. I learnt what Australians mainly talk about when in the outdoors: Aussie Rules, sharks, Aussie Rules, bushfires, whether Delta Goodrem would make a good Olivia Newton John in the recent biopic, snakes, which part of John Farnham's career was the best ... and whether Steve Irwin brought about his own demise (apparently he got too close).
The Australian trampers also seem fascinated by Jacinda, and all but one had spent extensive time tramping in New Zealand's South Island. In fact they all seemed envious of me living in Bluff.
The fact the other walkers kept talking about sharks was not surprising — the Margaret River is a great surf area (Kelly Slater called it the best surf in the world) and in April two surfers were attacked by sharks. We walked past several memorials to dead surfers, and also past the site of one of Australia's worst disasters when a cliff fell down on a school group watching a surf competition.
Anyway back to me getting dehydrated. I had left a Bluff winter to go on the walk and was dangerously fit — I walk obsessively; in fact, some days all I do is walk. I am an obsessive rambler. And I never carry water. I see water drinking as a sign of weakness. The worst gift anyone could buy me is one of those CamelBak backpack/water bottle contrivances.
What I have learnt (and praise the Lord that I am still teachable) is that tramping in Australia is different. On the first day we walked 12 or 13km — which to me seemed a trifling distance — through low scrub and along beaches, and because I had become separated from my bag (boring story, not important) I was only carrying a small bottle of water in a shopping bag. Well, the heat and the wind and the salt and the lack of cover conspired to make it an unpleasant afternoon indeed. In fact, I spent that night in my room planning on ways to get myself out of this stupid walk altogether.
As you have probably gathered I did continue — and what a fantastic decision it was. The rest of the walk, and the company, and the scenery, and the guides, and the group running it were fantastic. I changed my attitude about water — every day I would carry two litres and sip it throughout the day.
The tramping seemed very different from walking in Aotearoa. It never really got bushy; it was mainly scrubby — and by scrubby I mean a lot of the time your head and shoulders were above the plants. But what plants they were — completely different from what I was used to — with an amazing display of wild flowers and a surprisingly strong smell; some days they were entirely peppermint.
Kangaroos were everywhere and we saw snakes and lizards and other reptiles.
The birds too were novel — brightly coloured, noisy and parroty-looking — in fact I assume they were mainly parrots. One beautiful bird was called 28 (otherwise known as the Australian ring neck). It is called 28 because its call sounds like "vingt huit" which is French for twenty eight.
What I did find really surprising was that there were hardly any seagulls.
On day seven we saw one and there was much discussion as to whether it was an albatross or not. I delicately explained it was a seagull (these were proud, educated people) while trying not to sound too showy offy or as though I was some closet hard-core birder.
Each day we would have a shared breakfast at the communal villa, and on half the days we would pack a lunch. The other days lunch would come to meet us. We'd generally finish walking about 3pm and would often stop in at one of the region's stunning wineries or breweries on the way home. There would be a tremendous home-cooked meal at night at the shared villa, with great chat until bedtime. I found myself sleeping about nine hours a day — I suspect a combination of walking in the heat, as well as the relief of being away from the children.
Refreshingly there was nowhere to spend money — the whole area seemed really uncommercialised and free of idiot traps. I spent no money during the eight days, apart from two Summer Rolls at a general store in a moment of weakness.
If I was to walk this way again, which I am quite tempted to do, I would read the gear list. Reading emails is not my strong point and I found a lot of the gear I was supposed to bring I didn't have.
The one thing I really regretted not having was those things that go over your shoes to stop sand and rocks going in your boots. I think they are called puttees or gaiters.
The other thing I regret not taking is coffee bags. A lot of people wince when I mention these but I am a total convert, particularly when tramping. Avalanche or Jed's are the best.
I totally swear by them — and even coffee obsessives will admit eventually that they are closet fans of the product. Oh and maybe you should also pack a Camelbak, if you don't mind looking like an idiot ... albeit a rehydrated one.
On the way back to Perth airport I spent some time at Fremantle doing a walking tour.
Which is very unlike me, but I thought it was great. I told the guide I was keen on whatever he wanted to show me as long as it wasn't street art. He showed me prisons, piecarts, docks, train stations and statues of AFL stars. He even told me AC/DC's Bon Scott spent most of his life in Perth, and that Highway to Hell is about a local road (unlikely but true).
The guide left me near the docks with several hours to spare before my lift to the airport.
As everyone in Fremantle seemed to be in the pub watching Aussie rules, I wandered around til I found the Stella Maris Seafarers' Centre, and let myself in and watched the royal wedding of Meghan and Harry. A lovely ending.
flies from Auckland to Perth, via Melbourne, with return Economy Class fares from $1067.